Sunday, July 28, 2013

An Archeological Dig — Revision and Its Many Stages

This week, I read Gobsmacked! by my formed mentor Stephen Roxburgh. A wonderful piece about Roald Dahl and their time working together, Stephen illuminates how they worked through the revision process, and the various rounds and ongoing discussions had they regarding certain ideas, story structure, characters, and the like.

Not only is it a delightful read, but Gobsmacked! is a good reminder of the ways the revision process evolves over time. As Stephen writes, much "like a archeological dig. You start moving big things, but in the end, you focus on the smallest details." This is something I certainly know is true from my time working with Stephen, and is a truth I was reminded of again as I moved into the second round of my revision process.

Entering the second stage of revision, I was glad both to finish round one, as it is a mark of tangible progress, while also welcoming a change in revision style. In round one, I worked through the manuscript chronologically, identifying larger character and plot concerns, as well as heavily refining my language and deleting unnecessary sentences and/or paragraphs. In round two, however, I am tackling my list of more conceptual problems. Dealing with more minute but wholly significant character inconsistencies, missing pieces, the need for more interactions, and many other problems that require a creative type of problem solving.

At times I feel as if I am looking a piece of wood that needs to be carved to just the right shape in order to fit into the puzzle. I have certain revision points in which I need to actively figure out how best to address the problem that exists — to change things, or manipulate, to reimagine a character and come up with a unique but consistent resolution that fits into the larger whole of the story.

This revision cycle also requires that I work out of order, extracting disparate pieces from my story and looking at them side by side, even though they might be hundreds of pages apart. Jumping around from section to section, I need to make sure that if I change a detail on page 16, that what happens on page 108 and 208 also change accordingly.

This is a round where all the pieces matter together, individually and in relationship to each other; where I have to think more strategically, in terms of the greater whole — because truly in the end, it is the details that matter and the details that could pull a story apart.

So as I continue through this revision cycle and into the next, I welcome the changes that occur and the variant styles I must employ in order to make it all work. And of course, it is always helpful to hear the words of an expert, and remember that even the most brilliant literary minds go through a process of trying, and reworking, and digging through the dirt.

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